MONTREAL -- Dairy processing giant Saputo announced it will close three Canadian cheese plants over the next several months in order to improve operational efficiency.

The shutdowns will leave Saputo's Canadian cheese division with 17 plants.

In March, Saputo acquired a Whitehall, Penn., production plant from ConAgra, and in August it announced it would shutter a cheese plant in Demark, Wis. on Oct. 1.

The plants slated for closure are in Souris, Manitoba (Oct. 30), Yorkton, Saskatchewan (Jan. 17, 2003), and Oakville, Ontario (a gradual shutdown from March to September '03).

According to a release, the closures will result in the layoffs of 143 employees, some of whom will be offered transfers to other Saputo plants.

Production activities at the plants to be closed will resume at other Saputo facilities.

Once the plants are closed, the company expects to save CAN $4 million (U.S. $2.52 million). The after-tax cost of the shutdowns will be about CAN $3.8 million (U.S. $2.4 million), including a CAN $1.8 million (U.S. $1.1 million) non-cash effect related to the devaluation of fixed assets.

Saputo is the world's fifth-largest dairy producer according to Dairy.com's "Dairy 100," generating revenues of nearly $2.3 billion annually.

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